Planet Rugby Readers’ Team of 2023: World Cup-winning Springboks dominate

Jared Wright
All Blacks' number eight Ardie Savea, France captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont and Springboks' lock Eben Etzebeth during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

All Blacks' number eight Ardie Savea, France captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont and Springboks' lock Eben Etzebeth during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

We asked, and over 32 200 of you answered as we reveal the 2023 Planet Rugby Readers’ Team of the Year.

A huge thank you for taking part and letting us know who your picks for the best players of the year are.

With the results tallied up, the Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks dominate the team, with just three countries represented.

Overall, the votes were relatively close, with just two players receiving over 70 per cent, while five players claimed a spot with less than half of the votes.

Planet Rugby Readers’ Team of the Year

15 Damian Willemse (South Africa): Having nailed down the Springboks starting role, Willemse really impressed our readers this year. 2023 also saw the talented utility back become the youngest double Rugby World Cup winner. This was the closest poll of the lot, with Willemse’s 28% just enough to earn him his spot ahead of New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett (22.2%), Ireland’s Hugo Keenan (25.6%) and France’s Thomas Ramos (24.1%).

14 Damian Penaud (France): The brilliant Les Bleus winger (38.8%) edged All Blacks’ flyer Will Jordan (33.8%) for the second spot in our team. Penaud had an incredible year, scoring five tries in the Six Nations, three tries in two World Cup warm-up matches and six in four World Cup games for an incredible 14 tries in 11 Test matches. South Africa’s Kurt-Lee Arendse claimed 21% of the votes, while Argentina’s Emiliano Boffelli got just 6.5%.


13 Jesse Kriel (South Africa): A second World Cup-winning Springbok claimed the most votes as Kriel claimed 38% after producing standout performances to help South Africa to a fourth title. He came up against stiff competition for the 13 jersey, with Garry Ringrose (29.7%), Gael Fickou (16.9%) and Waisea Nayacalevu (15.5%) missing out.

12 Bundee Aki (Ireland): Arguably Ireland’s best player of the World Cup and perhaps this year, Aki enjoyed a stunning run of form this year. He earned 57.1% of the votes and comfortably beat his closest competitor, Damian de Allende (24.7%), to the number 12 jersey. Jordie Barrett (15.4%) and Sinoe Tuipulotu (2.8%) were the other candidates.

11 Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa): The livewire Springbok flyer didn’t enjoy a steller try scoring run in 2023, but he produced in big moments for South Africa during the World Cup which convinced 58.1% of readers to vote for him. He beat France’s breakthrough star Louis Bielle-Biarrey (2.4%), Ireland’s James Lowe (13.9%) and New Zealand’s Mark Telea (25.6%) to the left winger spot.


10 Handre Pollard (South Africa): Limited to just four Test caps this year for the Springboks, but the fly-half big match temperament clearly impressed our readers. Surprisingly, the South African earned 53.9% of the votes, with Richie Mo’unga coming in second place, claiming 23.4%. Johnny Sexton led Ireland to a Six Nations Grand Slam but got just 17.6% of the votes, and Owen Farrell claimed just 5%.

9 Antoine Dupont (France): Largely a one-man race with the Les Blues scrum-half earning 65.9% of the votes. The next highest percentage was from Faf de Klerk (20.4%), while Aaron Smith and Jamison Gibson-Park were in third and fourth, respectively.

Loose forwards

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand): World Rugby’s Player of the Year was another who comfortably won his poll. The brilliant back-rower got 70.5% of the votes after a truly remarkable year jampacked with stellar performances. France’s Gregory Alldritt (14.7%) was his closest competitor, but Savea’s sensational form, helping the All Blacks reach the World Cup final, meant he was the clear standout.

7 Siya Kolisi (South Africa): Just the second player to lead his country to back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles, following in the footsteps of Richie McCaw. It was a memorable year for Kolisi, who made a sensational recovery from injury to feature at the World Cup. He earned 54.6% of the votes for the openside flanker role, while 2022 World Rugby Player of the Year, Josh van der Flier (21.7%), claimed the second most votes, followed by Levani Botia (13.3%) and Jac Morgan (10.4%).

6 Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa): The most one-sided poll of the lot as the Springbok flanker earned a mammoth 85.4% of the votes. After a torrid run of injuries, Du Toit was back to his best in 2023 and, produced impressive performances in the World Cup and was named man of the match in the final. France’s Charles Ollivon (10%), Shannon Frizell (2.8%) and Marcos Kremer (1.8%) were the candidates that Du Toit swatted aside.

Tight five

5 Franco Mostert (South Africa): This one of the closer votes as the Springbok locked edged All Black second-rower Scott Barrett (34.2%) by just 3.7%. The tireless workhorse is often overlooked and undervalued, but readers were impressed by his performances throughout the year, especially after he filled the void Lood de Jager left. The other candidates were France’s Thibaud Flament (14.1%) and Ireland’s James Ryan (13.8%).

4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa): The Springbok centurion had another phenomenal year in Green and Gold playing a pivotal role in the heart of the pack that went on to win the World Cup. His performances caught the eye of our readers, 81.9% of whom believed that he was the best number four lock this year. While Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne impressed for club and country, he earned just 12.3% of the votes, with Brodie Retallick (4.3%) and Jean Kleyn (1.4%) also missing out.

3 Frans Malherbe (South Africa): Another Springbok who dominated his respective poll as Malherbe earned 66.6% of the votes for the best tighthead prop of the year. France and La Rochelle star Uini Atonio (17.2%) and Tonga’s Ben Tameifuna (10.8%) came in second and third, respectively, while Tyrel Lomax surprisingly got just 5.3% of the votes.

2 Bongi Mbonambi (South Africa): The hooker spot in our readers’ team of the year was closely contested, with Dan Sheehan claiming 30.3% of the votes, which was not enough to beat Mbonambi’s 36.1%. The rest of the votes were split between France’s Peato Mauvaka (19.8%) and Argentina captain Julian Montoya (13.8%).

1 Ox Nche (South Africa): The Springbok loosehead prop is a fan favourite, and it shows as he is the 11th South African to make the final XV. Nche produced a match-winning performance off the bench against England in the semi-final of the World Cup, and while he earned 53.1% of the votes, he had some stiff competition. Teammate Steven Kitshoff was the runner-up for the role with 23%, and Andre Porter claimed 16.8%. Finally, New Zealand’s Ethan de Groot got 7.2%.

READ MORE: The 50 best rugby players of the year, part four: 20-11